Star Chef: Marcela Valladolid
Chef Marcela Valladolid’s success gives new meaning to the word perseverance. “I sent Food Network a tape of myself cooking when I was 19 years old and they had me on as a guest,” she explains. That was 13 years ago. Today, Valladolid is the host of the highly-rated show Mexican Made Easy on the very network she first pursued.
Born in San Diego and raised in Tijuana, Valladolid admits she had no idea cooking was going to be her career path. She actually thought she was going to become an architect. While in college, Valladolid got her first exposure to culinary life while working as an assistant at her aunt’s cooking school in Tijuana. “I started working with my aunt and I said, ‘I have to switch careers, because I can wake up and do this every day of my life.’”
Valladolid went on to graduate from the Ritz Escoffier Cooking School in Paris as a classically-trained pastry chef and became a food editor at Bon Appétit magazine, started her own catering company and taught children about the culinary arts in Tijuana, and hosted her own cooking show, Relatos con Sabor on Discovery en Español. In 2005, she joined the cast of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, and finished in fourth place.
Along the way, Valladolid realized Mexican cooking wasn’t as accessible as it should be. I love what she always says — “There is NO yellow cheese in real Mexican cooking.”
Through Mexican Made Easy, Valladolid’s goal is to demystify the art of Mexican cooking. She notes, “We try really hard to focus on keeping it very accessible. I say this all the time: I’m never going to cook with an ingredient you can’t find at the supermarket but I’m also going to try to guarantee authenticity.”
Valladolid gives her viewers the basics like arroz Mexicano, quesadillas, enchiladas, huevos rancheros — all the really traditional Mexican stuff — recipes that are even helpful for a Mexican woman like myself. She shares her secret for the best salsa Mexicana below.
Valladolid recently partnered with Sauza Tequila for a Web and Facebook campaign to teach women on how easy and simple it is to make delicious, fresh-tasting margaritas.
I notice any chance Valladolid gets she says she’s from Tijuana. “I think my contribution is to shed some light on the positive things from Mexico. I feel tremendously obligated to talk about how incredible, delicious, luxurious, innovative, and different Mexican cuisine is.”
The third season of Mexican Made Easy on Food Network will start on October 9, at 9:30am. Titled “From Mexico to the World,” the episode will highlight key culinary gifts from Mexico: corn, chocolate, avocadoes, and chiles. She’ll show viewers how easy it is to incorporate these ingredients into mouthwatering dishes like Easy Corn Tamales, Mexican Chocolate Margaritas, Avocado Flan and Stress-Free Salsa. Her first cookbook of the same name in collaboration with the Food Network will hit bookstores this fall.
Valladolid’s story is a perfect example of never giving up. “It was my third try with Food Network,” she points out about her successes. The single mother of a six-year-old boy, Fausto, attributes her success to her great support group. For Valladolid, that’s her family. “I surrounded myself with people who believe in me.” TANIA LUVIANO
According to Valladolid, making the best fresh Mexican salsa is easier than you think. Here’s her recipe:
1. Start with the freshest ingredients, especially when you are making a raw salsa! Nothing beats a perfectly ripe and fresh tomato paired with a crisp-to-bite, spicy serrano. Crispy fresh vegetables are essential for a good salsa. Also, using veggies at their seasonal peak is going to also guarantee better flavor.
2. Study your chiles! When you’re looking for spice, go for a habanero. For smoke, try a chipotle. For mild heat, a jalapeno, and for bold flavor, a Poblano. Sometimes you can combine to get balance and more depth of flavor. Go for dehydrated chiles for earthier and smokier flavors. Make sure your dehydrated chiles are not to brittle otherwise they’re over-dried and lacking flavor. They should be able to bend a little without tearing.
3. Watch the salt. With the bold, beautiful, spicy flavors of fresh chiles, there’s barely any need for too much salt and pepper!
4. Fresh salsas should be made in small quantities as they separate quickly and don’t hold for more than a day or two. Cooked salsas keep a little longer but nothing’s better than a fresh made salsa and any good Mexican cook wouldn’t dare put day-old salsa on the table with a fresh plate of carne asada!